Margaritas are probably the cocktail we make most often in my own house (we do live in Austin, after all) — and while a good margarita is delicious, it can also lead to some serious ibuprofen and carbs required to solve the hangover the next day. Ritual is a company that wants to solve this problem, though: providing a way to enjoy tequila without all the complications.
While we appreciate alcoholic spirits as much as anyone (maybe even more than most), we can’t ignore the fact that they’re, well… alcoholic. A healthy adult can only drink a small quantity before becoming impaired, and some can’t drink at all due to health issues. Which is sometimes makes for tricky situations where you want to drink socially but either can’t or prefer not to. So a few years ago, three friends had an idea: what if you could make something that tasted like a spirit and made good cocktails, but without the intoxicating effects or the calories?
Launched in 2019, Ritual is a Chicago-based company founded by novelist Marcus Sakey, his wife GG Sakey, and best friend David Crooch. The goal was to use botanical ingredients to mirror the smell, appearance, taste, and even the burn of alcohol… but without any of the actual alcohol. The company remains privately owned, and in 2020 sold a small minority stake to the British distilled spirits giant Diageo.
The marketing materials are light on the details of how this product is made, which I suspect is because the process is proprietary and really is the “special sauce” that they want to keep secret.
What we do know is that, according to Ritual, this tequila alternative starts as a set of botanicals that are distilled to extract the flavors within, and then blended to achieve the right flavor profile. According to their website, the specific ingredients are:
Filtered water, natural flavors, cane sugar, citric acid, xanthan gum, salt, caramel color, sodium benzoate & potassium sorbate as preservatives.
As you might notice, there is indeed sugar in this zero calorie tequila. The company claims that it’s such a small amount that it doesn’t even register as more than two calories worth, and is listed in the nutrition facts as “<1 g” of carbs and sugar. It’s still in there technically, though, which makes the ‘zero calorie’ branding feel a bit misleading (especially for anyone avoiding sugar for dietary reasons).
Overall, this looks exactly like a standard craft spirits bottle. Normally, I wouldn’t consider that to be a good thing — unique bottles are part of the experience when it comes to spirits — but for something that isn’t alcoholic (but wants to be part of that world), going with a standard design makes sense. The company is all about the ritual of drinking without the alcohol content, so using standard bottles is right on target to make you feel like you’re drinking ‘real’ spirits.
The label does hit my biggest pet peeve (being too large and obstructing the view of the contents within), but here I think that might be a strategic move instead of just a visual choice. Usually, you like to see the contents inside the bottle… but in this case, the contents are actually a bit cloudy and I don’t think that would be very appealing for many tequila drinkers who prefer a crystal clear liquid. So they strategically chose to cover it up as much as possible with a big white label that has some minimalist printing on it. You can still see the contents over the top and bottom, but it isn’t nearly as prominent as the label.
Can’t fault them for that design decision. In this case, I don’t actually want to see what’s in here, and the label looks much better.
This appears to be trying to mimic a reposado tequila, which works for me — in my opinion, aged tequilas typically work best in cocktails. As a pseudo-reposado, there’s some caramel coloring that has been added to provide that hay or light gold color, but just like all the other versions of Ritual the liquid is still pretty hazy.
Coming off the glass is an aroma I didn’t really expect. There are some herbal aspects like basil and juniper in here, along with some mesquite smoke and a touch of vanilla or caramel… but there’s also this artificially sweet component that reminds me of the aroma you’d get if you added stevia to your tea. It smells close to normal sugar, but there’s just something a touch soapy and off about it.
Taking a sip, the very first flavor you’ll notice is something that was missing completely in the aroma: lemon citrus. It’s the hallmark of a tequila to have some herbal components and some citrus, and the lemon is a welcome addition. The problem is that the lemon flavor is immediately followed by a spicy fiery heat that’s like cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper added directly to the drink. Black pepper is a common flavor that I’ll find in tequilas, but it’s usually more of a supplemental component compared to the palate-destroying-heat that we’re getting here.
Once that heat thankfully starts to taper off, I can taste some light brown sugar, a touch of mesquite smoke, and the on the finish a little more of that soapy characteristic that I found in the aroma. It doesn’t linger very long, however, and on the finish primarily what I have is the mesquite smoke, lemon citrus, and a lingering spiciness.
For those who might be a bit intimidated by the heat from the spice, the good news is that the ice really helps in that department. It’s still present, but in this case it’s closer to that black pepper spice you’d normally see in a tequila. It doesn’t last nearly as long and isn’t as ferocious, but it also doesn’t really have that earthy aspect that black pepper brings to the table. It’s still a sharper flavor than you’d normally expect.
Otherwise, the flavors here are fairly unchanged. I’m still getting the lemon citrus, mesquite smoke, caramel, and ever so slightly soapy component near the finish. I still don’t see the herbal aspects translating from the aroma into the flavor like I’d expect with a tequila, even once the heat has been turned down.
For this version of the margarita, I still went with the Cointreau as a mixer, FYI. Since Cointreay has alcohol in it, this isn’t really a “non alcoholic” drink anymore, but we felt it was the fairest way to compare how this performs against a typical tequila.
Honestly, I was surprised to find that this is still a pretty good cocktail even with this tequila alternative.
The components that come through are the cayenne pepper spice, brown sugar, and a bit of the mesquite smoke. There aren’t any herbal components I can detect, unfortunately. These would really be the cherry on top if they did appear, but this tequila-alternative does bring a bunch of other typical reposado tequila flavors to the cocktail. I’m impressed.
I don’t think that this is something I’d ever recommend someone try neat. Or on the rocks, for that matter. This is something that seems to have been designed as a tequila replacement specifically for cocktails, and in that context it works remarkably well. I’m missing some of the key flavors like the herbal notes, but everything else is there, and then some.
The choice to add mesquite smoke was interesting, as that’s not something I normally associate with tequila. Smoky flavors and characteristics are more typical of the Oaxacan mezcal than the common tequila, which usually has a brighter and cleaner profile. I prefer mezcal so I’m not complaining, but it is something to note if you are buying this with the intent to just 1:1 swap it with a blanco tequila.
Overall, this is a solid choice for a tequila replacement in your cocktails. It isn’t going to be as flavorful as you might hope, but it gets the job done.
|Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative|
Produced By: RitualProduction Location: Illinois, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.
Overall Rating: 3/5
All the citrus, spice, and caramel of a reposado tequila, just without the herbal components. Or the alcohol.